227 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff
SERVICE: Warm and efficient, at bar and tables
AMBIENCE: Chic but low-key jewel of a tavern
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. Tight for a wheelchair, street parking
If I were directing a sophisticated rom-com, I’d cast Tavern 227 as the neighborhood watering hole where the heroine spends hours chatting with the gentle, wisecracking bartender, drinking Manhattans and eating sophisticated pub grub.
Every detail of this Sea Cliff jewel is camera-ready, from the pressed-tin ceiling to the weathered brick walls to the wooden floors. Soft light is thrown off by antique chandeliers, wall sconces, votive candles and backlit bottles of liquor shelved behind the marble bar that dominates the room. The palette is warm — the brightest color is the soft burgundy of the upholstered banquettes, and the jazz soundtrack is cool. Tavern 227 opened this summer, but it feels like it’s been around forever.
For more than a decade, the one-story building at 227 Sea Cliff Ave. was occupied solely by Il Villaggio Pizzeria. But a few years ago, owners Antonia and Marcello Zuccaro (mother and son) decided that the pizzeria only required half the space, and they set about restoring the other half, stripping away decades of dropped ceilings and Sheetrock.
A place this pretty could get by on looks alone, but Tavern 227 goes many extra miles, with an appealing menu that splits the difference between pub and trattoria, friendly service and a well-stocked bar that dispenses Metaxa among brandies, Cynar (regular and 70 proof) among cordials and 16-year-old Lavagulin among single-malt scotches. A dozen wines by the glass are listed, unfortunately, only by varietal, but the four taps include Weihenstephaner, established in Bavaria in 1040, and Garvies Point Brewery, established in Glen Cove in 2015.
John Doran, who opened the Sea Cliff restaurants Oak Room Tavern and Still Partners, is the consulting chef here; Pedro Campos runs the kitchen day to day. Among their strongest starters is the grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, green beans, grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives, deepened with char and brightened with an herb oil. Meatballs, lush and tender, get the red-and-white treatment with tomato sauce and ricotta. Also recommended: golden, Hershey’s Kiss-shaped arancini and a polite salad of beet, pear and blue cheese.
You’d expect a place like this to have a great burger, and 227 does not disappoint: No fancy flourishes, just flavorful, properly seasoned beef, a brioche bun and your choice of Cheddar, Fontina or blue cheese. Fries are skinny, salty and hot. A weekly special of steak frites (with hanger steak) is just as appealing. Among pastas, the gnocchi in a fresh tomato sauce is a winner. Skip the pappardelle Bolognese, whose sauce had none of the long-cooked depth of that hallowed ragù — just blobs of meat in red sauce.
Spaghetti alla chitarra cacio e pepe was admirably sauceless and tight, but needed a lot more cacio (cheese) and pepe (pepper). That kind of timidity plagued otherwise pleasant shrimp tacos (needed acid), and sea bass “aqua pazza,” whose only flavor came from a discordant bed of broccoli rabe.
And now, a message from the department of taxonomy: Osso buco is Italian for “bone with a hole” and it describes a veal shank that has been crosscut to expose the marrow bone, whose contents enrich the liquid in which it is braised. A whole braised shank, like the one on the menu at 227, is called a “stinco” and it can be a fine dish when it is cooked gently to succulence — which was not the case here. End of lecture. Grousing runs counter to the spirit of this even-tempered establishment.
A recent dinner of grilled octopus, medium-rare burger and Tavern 227’s excellent chocolate lava cake, accompanied by a glass of Côtes du Rhône and a good friend, was pretty much perfect.